Most unions in Australia have adopted a growth agenda — with a strong focus on joining new members to the union. This typically involves teams of organisers who specialise in signing up workers to the union. By all accounts, this tactic has paid off handsomely in the raw number of new members joining unions.
The second side of the growth equation is member retention and loyalty. Keeping a member is just as important as acquiring new members. However, relatively few conversations are taking place about member retention, member life-time value, and member satisfaction, at least compared to membership acquisition.
Historically for unions, membership loyalty programs have consisted of Union Shopper and associated discounts. However, research has demonstrated that schemes like Union Shopper have no effect on membership retention or satisfaction.
The focus on growth amongst union leaders seems to be partly blinding many to the other key metrics that will ensure the long-term financial sustainability of unions. Membership growth is essential, but growth alone doesn’t tell you about the underlying drivers of membership revenue — and can keep the focus off the equally important issues of retention and loyalty.
Here are four metrics that union leaders should know about and track.
1. Net Promoter Score
Although the Net Promoter Score was developed by management consulting firm Bain (a company related to Romney’s Bain Capital) it is a useful score to be aware of and track. It is simply a loyalty metric that enables you to monitor how enthusiastic your members (or customers in the business world) are about your services. It is a way to measure the “likelihood to recommend”.
Your Net Promoter Score can be as low as −100 (everybody is a detractor) or as high as +100 (everyone is a promoter). Most NPSs will be around the 0 mark. A positive score is good because it tells you that you have more members who are promoting their membership of the union than detracting.
To calculate your NPS, take the percentage of members who are promoters (P) and subtract the percentage who are detractors (D). Members who are passive are left out of the equation. You should have something like this:
P — D = NPS.
You can gauge whether your members are detractors or promoters in membership surveys, by asking the question “how likely are you to recommend to a friend or colleague that they join the union”. People who are very unlikely to recommend are detractors, those who are very likely to recommend are your promoters.
This metric is useful because it gives you a snapshot of the growth potential of your union, by measuring the enthusiasm existing members have towards the union. Having a high Net Promoter Score doesn’t guarantee strong growth, but it will be harder to grow without your members being willing to recommend membership of the union.
A valid criticism of this score however is that it is not immediately actionable. The Net Promoter Score tells you how positive your members are towards the union, but if you have a net negative score, it is not immediately clear from the score alone how to improve the situation. This is where other membership research is needed.
2. Member Retention
The longer a person is a member of a union, the more the cost to the union to service him or her decreases, and the more likely it is that the person will remain a member. Membership churn is inevitable. In fact, it is embedded into the nature of many industries. Service work for example, in call centres, hospitality, cleaning and many community services is highly casualised. Workers come into the sector and leave very easily.
Research into union membership suggests that membership retention is also linked to the member’s uncertainty about their future (job security) and the presence of a local union organisation in the workplace (e.g. a delegate or member organising committee). In my experience, the highest member churn rates were in areas where there was low job security and where we did not have a union delegate.
Obviously, for unions, achieving job security is a function of collective bargaining and defending members’ rights regarding dismissal. Building a strong delegate network (and vigourously defending those delegates against management attack) is the other actionable result of membership retention.
Retention as a metric is simply the rate that members exit the union; and also the length of membership. I found that members were far more likely to remain members if their membership was sustained past the first 12 months. To me, this suggested that the union I worked for (the NTEU) needed to spend a lot more resources on keeping those new members early in their membership. Obviously, the details will be specific to your union and the industries you cover.
3. Growing Your Army of Advocates
Your Net Promoter Score tells you roughly how many of your members are willing to recommend the union, but who is actually going out there to join up fellow members? A lot of members join unions based on the work of delegates and activists, but only a few unions track who those sign-up superstars actually are.
The linked metric is the number of members who refer “hot leads” to organisers to be signed up. When I was an organiser, several activists would regularly tell me who I should approach to ask to sign up. The activist had already done a lot of the hard work in talking to the prospective member about the benefits of joining; all I had to do was present them with a membership form and close the deal.
Knowing how many advocates you have providing leads for your organisers is a good indicator of your union’s success at improving member loyalty. Often the raw membership growth metrics can hide where and how your new members are joining.
4. Ask:Join Rates
Your headline growth rate tells you very little about how effective your growth teams are, and isn’t very useful when you’re looking at refining your campaign messages, join scripts or your growth teams’ approach to new and existing work sites.
The rate at which people join the union after being asked is your “close rate”. It tells you how many conversations your organisers are having with non-members and how many of those conversations actually result in a new member. The reason that this metric is important is that it is the most actionable metric. You can tie your close rate to refining scripts and reviewing which sites you target. A low close rate and a high top-level recruitment numbers suggest that your union is going with a saturation approach to membership growth — ask everyone in the hope of picking up the low hanging fruit. Similarly, a high close rate and moderate or low top-level recruitment suggests that your organisers are having more targeted conversations in work places where the “easy joins” have been signed up already.
Broadening the membership metrics your union tracks will help drive important changes across your union, including identifying stand-out organisers, weak or difficult sites, super-star activist and future delegates, and ideally help drive action to grow your union and build member loyalty to it.
Most of all, good metrics help empower union leaders to make better decisions.